Eliminating stress from your life is probably not possible. Even if you could, stress has its place because it helps motivate you to action. The key is to manage it, so it doesn’t manage you.
What’s Really Going On: The Stress Response
Your body’s stress response can be triggered by a number of situations and problems. Once triggered, your brain and hormones swiftly kick into action. First, your hypothalamus, an almond-size control center deep within your brain, alerts your adrenal glands. These glands then send cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and adrenaline, the chemical messenger that causes you to jump when someone surprises you, through your bloodstream. The hormones pull sugar from your liver and fatty acids from your fat cells to push your muscles into action.
As the stress cascade continues, your heart races, your breath shortens and your pupils dilate. Adrenaline squashes your appetite so you can concentrate. Finally, stress hormones help your brain take photograph-like pictures of what’s happening at that very instant — perhaps so you will never forget it. Your body’s stress response is perfectly natural, as hardwired as feeling hungry or tired.
The kind of stress that energizes you to complete a project on time is called “productive stress.” The kind that immobilizes you with worry, indecision, and sleeplessness should be addressed.
The stress response can result in a stress hangover. Too much adrenaline leaves you burned-out, slowing your reflexes. And cortisol can make you susceptible to viral infections, such as outbreaks of cold sores, since it lowers immune system resistance.
Today, many people feel “stressed out,” as if they’re constantly on the edge. Whether you’re in a bad relationship, have a difficult job, or are simply inclined to worry, it’s as if the alarm signal in your brain is switched permanently on.
What to Do: The Exercise Cure
If you are overstressed, chances are you no longer find pleasure in activities you used to enjoy. Regular aerobic exercise is a good way to bring back balance to your life. Running, swimming, biking and even brisk walking will cause your brain to release endorphins. These are natural chemicals that affect your brain almost like opiates, making you “feel no pain” and producing a high. Exercise also helps you sleep, one of your body’s natural medicines for stress. Even a gentle walk or a slow bike ride can take your focus off your problems, opening your mind to more creative problem-solving.
The Tension Triangle
Muscle relaxation, such as yoga, hot baths, and massage, help counteract a key physical symptom of stress: muscle tension. Tightness in what’s known as the tension triangle, your brow, jaw, neck and shoulders seems to be a frequent companion to the stress associated with computer-focused office work. Simply getting up and moving around can help. Kneading muscles gently, applying a warm-water compress or stretching can also ease the muscles back to their normal state.
Nine Instant Stress Busters
- Laugh out loud (works even better in the company of a friend).
- Pet your dog (a cat will work, too; a goldfish not so much).
- Clean your clutter – oh, that really feels good
- Mow the lawn – who doesn’t love the scent of fresh cut grass?
- Drink a glass of orange juice – vitamin C is a great mood enhancer.
- Sing a song – nobody cares if you don’t have perfect pitch.
- Talk a walk (but you have to promise not to chew on your troubles).
- Chew on gum (much better for you than chewing on troubles).
- Take a deep breathe (outside if you can – there’s nothing like northern Michigan air).
Stress relief is one of the first benefits that come to mind when thinking of massage therapy. Clinical studies show that even a single 1 ½ -hour session can significantly lower heart rate, cortisol levels and insulin levels – all of which help reduce stress. Massage therapy is available at Munson Medical Center and Munson Community Health Center at discounted rates for employees. To schedule an appointment at either location, call (231) 935-6926. Next time you have a special occasion, consider asking your family for a gift certificate to a Munson massage therapist.
Most of us just aren’t getting enough sleep. The average American sleeps just six hours and 55 minutes a night, yet all of us need a full eight hours of sleep to function and feel at our best. Two-thirds of Americans do not feel well-rested. Three in 10 people will fall asleep at their desk this month. This large percentage of sleepy people has fatal consequences. Drowsy driving causes one in five car accidents. Lifetime heart attack risk increases by 50 percent for an adult who averages less than six hours of sleep.
Here are more consequences of sleepiness:
- The average U.S. worker pays $20 a week for coffee.
- Getting less than six hours of sleep could add the equivalent of one cheeseburger a day to your diet.
- Sleepiness lowers testosterone levels an average of 10 to 15 percent.
- Risk of stroke increases four times for an adult over 45 who sleeps only six hours a night.
- Tired employees cost businesses approximately $136 billion a year.
Want to sleep more? Here’s how: Power down your cell phone, establish a nightly routine, and don’t use electronic devices 45 minutes before bed time.
If you are having difficulty sleeping or are chronically tired, ask your physician about a diagnostic sleep study at the Munson Sleep Disorders Center.